Not to Us

Funeral wreath with pink flower on a cross in a cemetary with a vintage filter.

Today’s reading:  2 Kings 3; 2 Thessalonians 3; Daniel 7; Psalms 114–115

It is 8pm on Wednesday night and I’m sitting down to write my post for this week. I just walked in the door from the third funeral visitation I’ve been to in the last ten days.  I still have one more to attend on Friday.  I don’t particularly like attending these events, as they tend to drain my emotions and make me really tired.  But I still try really hard not to miss them.  I believe God puts different people in our path for different reasons.  I consider it an honor and a privilege to be able come along side grieving family and friends, remember loved ones, and help provide comfort by speaking about the hope we have in Jesus Christ.

Yesterday, my friend Jane texted me for ideas on scriptures to use for her father’s funeral. One of the suggestions I gave her was Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven – a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

When we read through Ecclesiastes back in April, I wrote about this passage. I talked about how the poetic rhythm of Solomon’s journey through life’s different seasons is comforting.  More important than the rhythm, however, is the incredible hope found in the illustration of God’s sovereignty.  Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 reminds us that there is a season or time for EVERYTHING.   As we journey through life, we experience a variety of different events, both good and bad.  Because God is sovereign, meaning he has supreme power and authority, he has the ability to weave ALL these events together to accomplish his purpose.  Aren’t you glad life isn’t just a series of random events?  To know a master architect is fitting the pieces together for me is the hope I need to keep going, especially when I’m facing something as traumatic as the death of a loved one.

Like most people, I consider death and the memorial services that follow, to be one of life’s bad events. The room is filled with sadness, lines are long, and it is always a challenge to find just the right words to say.  In reality, the words of comfort or encouragement I have to offer aren’t really mine.  If it wasn’t for the faithfulness and care of a holy and gracious God, who sent Jesus Christ to be our Savior and Lord, I’m not sure what I’d say.  Thank you God.

Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory… (Psalm 115:1).

http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/christomlin/nottous.html

Lion’s Den

What is your “Lion’s Den”? Have there been any adverse situations where you’ve fully put your trust into the Almighty God and realized you had absolutely no power to influence the outcome? Please take a couple minutes to read the account of Daniel and the Lions’ Den. It is a remarkable story!

Without sharing the details of my personal lion’s den, here are questions that come to mind as I considered my own journey through a recent challenge. Please reflect on one of your own significant adverse situations. It could be something current or the past, but try to consider something you vividly recall.

  1. Prior to even knowing of the challenge, what path were you on? What did your relationship with God look like?
  2. Were you able to prepare for the situation? Meaning, did you have some foresight that things were going to get ugly? If so, how did you prepare?
  3. What was your first response when you became aware of the pending adversity?
  4. Facing the situation directly, what emotions did you encounter? Did you feel prepared for what was happening? Did you feel the presence and power of God throughout and/or did you sense His presence when you were at the end of your own strength?
  5. Why do you think that God allowed this situation to occur?
  6. Did you consider viewing the scenario not as a problem, but as an opportunity? What if every perceived problem in your life wasn’t really a problem, but an opportunity? How would things be different?
  7. Have you shared this situation and results with anyone?
  8. Reflecting back on the situation, what would you have done differently?
  9. Have you given thanks, praise, and glory to the God who delivered you?

Consider Daniel’s situation. Chapter 6 starts with informing the reader that Daniel would be placed in a high position of power and leadership under the king. Things were going quite well from a worldly perspective and in parallel, Daniel had his priorities in order. It was well known that he was a man who humbly bowed down to God. Even after learning of the fateful law that had been signed, Daniel didn’t waiver; he went home and “knelt down as usual” giving thanks to his God (see Daniel 6:10). God was glorified as a result of Daniel’s obedience and faithfulness.

The story of Daniel reminds me of Jesus in the garden the night before he was to be tortured and crucified. Jesus had his heart right, he knew his purpose, and fortunately us he submitted to the will of his Father in Heaven, the almighty God so that we may have eternal life with him.

Will you face your next trial more like Daniel and Jesus?

2 Kings 2; 2 Thessalonians 2; Daniel 6; Psalms 112–113

Pompous Kings

two-faced manhypocrite deceitful person abstract vector background
two-faced manhypocrite deceitful person abstract vector background

2 Kings 1; 2 Thessalonians 1; Daniel 5; Psalms 110–111

As I continue to read through the old testament, I have a tendency to become discouraged. Mostly because I cannot figure out why the kings don’t get it.  They repeat the same mistakes, over and over. Occasionally, one will appear to be different, attempting to do good. But, his efforts are often half-hearted and almost always stamped out by the next generation. This pattern will continue through our reading of 2 Kings and into Chronicles. As you read the stories, pay attention to these three common threads.

Kings have a way of using God’s good things for their own aggrandizement      For example, today in 2 Kings 1, Belshazzar occupies the throne. He is enjoying the good life and taking full advantage of his reign as king. In order to prove his greatness above all others during a party, he ordered the treasures of the Temple of Jerusalem to be brought out for the guests. It wasn’t enough for Belshazzar to simply use them for the party. In fact, while drinking from them, “they drank wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.” Daniel 5:4 (ESV).  These acts clearly illustrate contempt of Godly things.

The reign of a king is temporary.  Maybe you didn’t notice, but they all die. In fact, many of them come and go without any fanfare at all.  During their reign, however, they make short-term decisions, based on their short-term world-view.  Their goal is simple.  To maximize their existence.

Contrast these kings’ short-term world-view with Jesus’ eternal world-view.  His decisions and actions are clearly different, focusing not on his own existence but on the eternal existence of all people.

God invites them to participate in His work.  Throughout these stories, God attempts to get their attention. He does it often through the voices of others, generally called prophets. They are the ones that know God’s word and will. Even though the king may have asked a prophet’s advice, they rarely listen, attempting instead to preserve their own ego’s, status and power. They refute and disclaim the advice of the prophets, always with predictable consequences. In the end, they are forced into humility by others, or they die an early death.

Jesus invites us to participate in His work too.  In fact, not only are we promised forgiveness, we are also given new life.  According to 2 Corinthians 5:17, we are a “new creation.”  Think of all the good things that we can do.

Discerning God’s Will

A Christian is obsessed with God’s will. Our love of the LORD is synonymous with obedience to His Word (John 14:15). To know it. To do it. To serve Him is our greatest privilege. God’s Word speaks to so much but what about the things it does not speak to specifically? 

As I read today’s scripture I’m reminded of advice I received with regard to discerning God’s will: focus on His revealed will. When we are faced with decisions in life that we cry out for discernment on we need to look to scripture and focus on God’s revealed will. In the past, I have acted like a child, just wanting my answer for my particular situation. ‘Should I major in this or that… God’s word says to love people… right, right, but what about my major….’

I have heard it said that God does not care when it comes to these smaller things. You may have heard it phrased as a question; “Does God really care who wins the super bowl?” In my estimation, of course He does! I have come to believe God cares about everything (1John 4:8). I have also come to believe that God knows everything (Psalm 139:4). If God is love (opposite of not caring) and God knows everything, my faith strengthens me to believe that His revealed will contains all I need (Isaiah 46:9-10, Romans 8:28, 2Corinthians 12:9). And so by the grace of God, those who love God, can face a specific decision and know that God’s will for you is fully contained in God’s revealed will. Praise God that we need not over complicate things nor worry and that obeying God is simple and the burden light if we let it be! (1John 5:3, Ecclesiastes 7:9) #FaithForward 

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Today’s reading: 1 Kings 22; 1 Thessalonians 5; Daniel 4; Psalms 108–109

Suggestions for prayer: Ask God to place on you a love for His Word and to light your path.

For further study: Make a study of all the places in scripture where God reveals His will. Copy them down and share them with your family at the dinner table (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). Ask your family to join in and add to the family collection of God’s revealed will.  

Distress Call

Tuesday 10/18/2016

Every day the power of God’s word is priceless when you listen and apply.  At times, these words can be a reminder when we start to rely on ourselves or other times His word can be a resurrection when you have tried to live life without Him.  I can validate both because I have lived life in both arenas. In our moments of fear, joy, loneliness, and happiness God is with us always.  Stories shared through the biblejournal.net connect real stories back to the real word of the Lord.  These stories connect us with each other and ultimately back to God.  In our conversations, actions, time, and prayers we serve in the name of Jesus who holds it all. This week I have read multiple verses in our scripture that connected with my heart in different moments.  Psalm 107 repeats a verse that I’m reminded of as I share the joy I find in the Lord with some loving relatives and faith that He has a divine plan for us.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.  Psalm 107:6

I plan to share this link with my two special uncles this morning who I have both talked about God with.  My prayer is God touches their hearts and a relationship is established. Enjoy Uncle Carl & Fred!

Our God will and does make a difference in all you do. He is also called the Great Comforter. ( 2 Corinthians 1:3-5). In Psalm 107:6, 107:13, 107:19, 107:28 these words are repeated by various people including those who were lost Psalm 107:4-9, those in the dark Psalm 107:10-16, those who are sick Psalm 107:17-19, and those who are in a storm at sea. Psalm 107:23-27.  No matter where you are at spiritually now, God is able to help.  He loves us and has grace and kindness for those in distress.  God has done it all and we have so much to thank him for. When you live in His presence things are different and you want to tell others.  Share the amazing ways he has changed your life.

So if you are lost, confused, hurt, tired, or searching for God He will answer. Anyone can receive the offer of Jesus to satisfy your pain.  Jesus is the answer when its hard to get any sleep.  The answer when there is loneliness in your heart.  fredJesus is the Way (John 14:6), the Bread of Life (John 6:35) , and the Giver of rest (Matthew 11:28-30).  You can call on him at any moment and receive this life-giving offer.

Dear God,

Thanks for all you do.  Thank you for the words that point us to Christ.  We come to you in need of rest and renewing of our heart and mind. Help us to trust and be confident in your love for us.  We love you! Amen

 

Today’s Reading: 1 Kings 21; 1 Thessalonians 4; Daniel 3; Psalm 107

Standing Fast in the Lord

Oliver at Disney

Today’s Readings: 1 Kings 20, 1 Thessalonians 3, Daniel 2, Psalm 106

“For this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 3:7)

I just love these words from Paul. I read this chapter over and over this week, imagining myself as a new Christian in Thessalonica. Well the truth is, I am one of those new Christians. I’m just in Bloomingtonica. This weekend marks 5 years since I first made a real change for Christ. At that time I was at a lifetime low. Our son had been sick, very sick and then we were dealt a second blow. Almost by accident our pediatrician heard a heart murmur and what followed changed our lives forever. Our ten month old had two small tumors in his heart. My world crashed down around me. I couldn’t understand how a generous, giving and loving God could do something so cruel to mother and her baby. I turned from Him. I felt guilty and ashamed as if I had done something wrong earlier in my life and now I was being punished.

Often, as Christian’s I think we fall into that misconception that turning to God will help us to escape our suffering. I can remember praying harder and harder, longer and longer and being so frustrated that I wasn’t seeing any “results.” I’m smiling as I write this because of course, now I know that God used this time in my life to save my life. God rescued me through the strength and the powerful witness of another Christian. Now I understand that God doesn’t promise an easy life. He doesn’t promise to rescue us from darkness. Instead, he gives us power to grow through our suffering. Just as Paul says,

“We have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.”

He’s saying that as Christian’s it is our responsibility to encourage one another through persecution and suffering. And then he points to the great joy we feel to see another person come to faith in Jesus Christ in the midst of pain. This week, I had the opportunity to take our son who is now five to Disney World. We couldn’t afford it, but God made a way. A hurricane hit, but God made a way. Hours before we were supposed to leave, he started bleeding…we called his doctor on Saturday night and through the love and compassion of many health care workers, God made a way. On Sunday morning, I had the privilege of waking my child who has endured endless suffering to tell him his dream had come true. For three days our God held Oliver in his hand. The bleeding stopped, he had energy, he had endurance and he had joy. We watched live shows in which the villain was defeated every single time. We rode rides that made our hearts pound and our tummies flip. At the very end, while at a special Halloween party at the Magic Kingdom, we enjoyed a show at midnight. Oliver would want all of our readers to know that midnight is the latest he has ever stayed up…well except when he was in the hospital and the morphine wasn’t working (his words, not mine). He lasted until midnight out of shear determination, so that he could see the show called Happy Hallowishes. This show was a medley of all the best Disney songs while animation was projected onto Cinderella’s castle. After the songs came the most brilliant display of fireworks I’ve ever seen. I held Ollie the whole time because he was too small to see over the crowd. In the last few minutes I felt warm tears roll down his face onto mine. Our faces were pressed together as we watched the finale, our tears now mixing and falling to the pavement. Our villains have been defeated. Every single one of them. We know that there will be more pain on this earth. We know that Ollie will go back to the hospital time and time again. We know that there will be sadness and fear. But we also know that there is no financial barrier, no hurricane, no physical disease that our God cannot overcome.

Since that day when I first made an intentional change for Christ, I began living. Living for today, for the time we have now. Of course, I need reminders, all the time. That’s what my steady husband and Christian friends are for. Just as Paul says to the Thessalonians,

“…for now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.”

A few days ago, I met a mother that lost her son last month. Her son was 21, his flame blown out in an instant. She told me that her grief is insurmountable. She told me that some days she wonders what she did wrong, why God is punishing her. She’s full of guilt and sadness. I shared Paul’s words with her,

“For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.” (1 Thessalonians 3:3-4)

We are destined for affliction while we are on this earth. The strength and power and absolute majesty is in the maturation of our faith and in our togetherness as Christian’s. We can do all things in Christ who indeed strengthens us…together.

Demonstrating Faith

“Be the change you want to see in the world!” Gandhi

The first rule of story telling is “show, don’t tell,” and it applies to every aspect of good communication.

“Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words.” St Francis of Assisi might have said this, and certainly others have used this idea to teach us that, our actions speak louder than our words. How we share the “Good News” of our salvation through Jesus may depend on our circumstances, but it is a thing that we should be doing constantly. This is both the by-product of our transformed lives and our obedient response to His teachings. All of this is the blossom of our faith.

“And we also thank God continually because when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe”. -1Thessalonians 2:13

Understanding who we are to God is one of the most private and personal things we can do. But when this occurs, one of the most natural responses is to shout it from the roof tops. This is evangelicalism, and it also happens to line up with the request of Christ in the great commission. In His own words; He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. (Mark 16:15) Not only preach it but….”go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19).

The problem here is nobody wants to be told what to think or believe. We all have a tendency to want to figure this out for ourselves.  So how do we as Christians proclaim God’s revelation in a way that best glorifies God? The answer is simple, sort of. We must BE the truth. We must think and say and do the very things that Christ encourages us to do. It is then that we become compelling evidence of the wonder and power of God’s spirit living through people who turn to Him. It’s simple really, just follow Christ, the rest is easy.

Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced, O descendants of Abraham his servant, O sons of Jacob, his chosen ones. -Psalm 105:1-6

1 Kings 19; 1 Thessalonians 2; Daniel 1; Psalm 105

Courage

Desmond Tutu giving lecture accepting Wallenberg medal at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, October 29 2008

Today’s reading:  1 Kings 18; 1 Thessalonians 1; Ezekiel 48; Psalm 104

In 1984 Desmond Tutu, General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, won the Nobel Peace prize for his work against South African apartheid.  The global recognition he gained from receiving such a prestigious award propelled Tutu on to the world stage, and gave him the influence of a prominent world leader.  Tutu’s opportunity for such broad impact, coupled with his courage and commitment to lead, helped him gain international sympathy for those oppressed under such an unjust regime.

During some of the darkest days of apartheid, the story is told of Tutu leading a church service when hundreds of armed South African police officers showed up to threatened the worshippers.  Tutu was not intimidated.  He continued to preach, then addressed the police officers directly, saying, “You are powerful.  You are very powerful, but you are not gods and I serve a God who cannot be mocked.  So, since you’ve already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side” (Jim Wallis, God’s Politics).

From our place in history today, we know this story has a good ending. Desmond Tutu’s courageous work helped officially end South African apartheid in 1993.  But in the years leading up to that time, Tutu wasn’t sure how the story would play out.  He had to trust good would eventually prevail, even if he wasn’t alive to see it happen.  What an incredible story of courage.

Today’s assigned scripture in 1 Kings 18 is also a story of incredible courage. Ahab was King of Israel at the time.  He was married to a pagan princess named Jezebel, who persuaded him turn away and follow after false gods.  Elijah, one of the most well-known Old Testament prophets, was a contemporary of King Ahab.  Yesterday in 1 Kings 17, we read about Elijah announcing a drought was coming to the land.

Our reading today begins in the third year of this drought with God directing Elijah to confront King Ahab.  This certainly required courage because King Ahab blamed Elijah for the drought.  He had been trying to find (and probably kill) Elijah for several years.  In spite of the danger, Elijah trusted God’s plan.  Not only did he confront King Ahab, but he went on to directly accuse the King of causing the drought himself. “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals [false gods] (1 Kings 18:18).  Elijah then challenged King Ahab to a contest to see who was better, Baal or God.  The contest was just Elijah, with God on his side, against 450 prophets of Baal.

You know how the story goes – not only did God prove his authority, but he did so decisively.  Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God” (1 Kings 18:38-39).

In 21st century America today, no one is seeking to kill me for obeying the one true God.  Even so, I sometimes time lack the courage to follow God’s commands.  Why is it so hard?  Like Elijah and like Desmond Tutu, I know how the story is going to turn out.  God wins!

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3).

Did you have any meaningful conversations?

While traveling for work this week I had the opportunity to spend time with a lot of people; some whom I had previously met, and some new faces as well. One of the evenings Amy sent a text to me that read: “Did you have any meaningful conversations?” While Amy has stated that she doesn’t ever plan to author a Bible Journal post, she sure does her part in using the gifts she’s been given. She asks good questions, focuses on her strengths, and has inspired much of my writing.

Strikingly, Amy’s question correlated with one of today’s verses:

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6)

The question and the verse forced me to reflect on the many recent conversations I’d been part of.

  • Did I go into the conversation seeking a win for me or for others?
  • Were my words and actions reflective of a Christ follower?
  • Did I focus on small talk or did I engage the unique human being I was blessed to be able to spend time with?
  • Was my heart right at the beginning of the day with the prayer to seek God’s will, not mine?

Reflecting on “salt” in our conversation immediately leads me to the words of Jesus from The Sermon on the Mount: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matthew 5:13).

In my heart, I don’t seek meaningless conversation, so why do I do it?

This week wouldn’t be deemed as “total failure”, however I could have done A LOT better, and the bottom line was selfishness. Fortunately I’m acutely aware of this selfishness through the act of prayerfully writing this post, and I’ll take awareness over ignorance any day. This gives me an opportunity to repent as well as consider how I’ll do better next time. Perhaps my Bible Journal should be renamed to Bible Journey.

To close on a lighter note… Amy spent hours this week making a cheesecake for my birthday and she forgot a key ingredient. The salt. No joke, but guess what? It still tasted amazing (plenty of salt in cream cheese) and better yet I felt loved because of her hard work; what a great treat to come home to. Thanks Amy!

1 Kings 17; Colossians 4; Ezekiel 47; Psalm 103

Habits

A nail is driven out by another nail; habit is overcome - ancient Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus quote printed on grunge vintage cardboard

1 Kings 16; Colossians 3; Ezekiel 46; Psalm 102

Much of our behavior is not intentional, it is the result of habits. Habits are patterns of behavior that we have acquired over time. Consider, for example, my routine when I get home from work. First I drop my bag into kitchen table chair. Second, I remove my shoes underneath the chair and yes, I lay my coat over it as well. I don’t think it through, it is my habit. Is it good or bad? In order to determine that, I look to my wife, Jennifer.  She starts with a gentle reminder, saying, “hey, your shoes are in here.” As time passes, her irritation escalates to anger.  I’m sure you can figure out the rest of the story. The bottom line is that our habits affect other people and they have a significant impact our relationships.

Once I recognize that a particular habit is straining our relationship, there is a choice to make. Do I continue on, knowing that they anger my wife, or do I change? I know what you are thinking, “Hey, idiot, pick up your shoes!” Right? Yes, that is the obvious answer. Yet, each of us makes similar choices, every day. Consider, now your habits relative to God. Today in Colossians 3, Paul reminds us that because we have chosen to be in a relationship with God, we must alter our behavior. Just like our spouses, our routines and habits affect our relationship with God.

How are we to do change our habits? The recipe is simple. It starts with our focus. Paul encourages us in Colossians 3:2 to “think about the things of heaven not of earth.” Now, I don’t think he’s telling us to think about streets paved in gold. Instead, he wants us to be reminded of the pure and perfect love in heaven because of God’s presence. The result magnifies God in a way that stirs our desire to please him. Our attempts to please Him will reveal conflicts with our natural behavior. In fact, just as in my marriage, it is impossible to attain a healthy relationship without removing old behaviors and replacing them with new behaviors that are pleasing and uplifting.  Paul says to put them to “death.”

If you are like me, thinking of all the habits I need to change is paralyzing.  For now, I’m going to focus on one small thing. What is ONE action that you can take today that will allow God’s love to flow more freely in  your life?  Don’t over think it.  It might be as simple as moving your shoes.